Ecclesiastes and Compost: A Liturgy for a New Year

Ecclesiastes and Compost: A Liturgy for a New Year January 2, 2019
Image via Pixabay/CC0 Creative Commons

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
New Years Day lectionary text

On New Years Eve, my coworkers and I gathered in a circle with a bottle of crappy champagne (“bubbly” because it sure as hell didn’t come from Champagne) and one of my coworkers bellowed “A toast to leaving the past behind! May what is dead stay dead!”

I didn’t really want to drink to that. I’m tired of bridge-burning. I’m tired of using my regrets to pole-vault into self-improvement.

There has to be a different way to grow as a human that isn’t based off of shame.

Reacting to regret, and calling that reaction “self-improvement,” is exhausting. And the worst part (the real icing on the cake) is that it never works! All that unhappiness, and we don’t even see long-term results. It doesn’t stop us from trying again, though, every year, because we’re kind of addicted to the lie that we can hate ourselves into becoming better.

The past is gonna come with us, whether we ignore it or not. Our failures are forming us, whether we accept them or not. Some things in our lives have died, and we can either accept that, or ignore the smell while they rot.

The other option, though, is to accept even the failures, acknowledge even the death, and to make compost.

God is Composting

Jeff Chu says that God composts – taking everything dead and making mulch to grow nourishing food.

Can we look back at last year, and see it as nourishment for what’s next? Can we look at 2018 warmly – even the awkward parts of it? Can we be gentle with how it played out, trusting that everything will be used?

Can we trust that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should, even the gross parts?

Can we trust that radical acceptance of ourselves will form us more deeply as followers of Christ and good neighbors than any shame-built resolutions ever will?

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Rumi

There is a time for everything, which means that everything belongs. All the failures. All the losses. All the seasons.

Every season is necessary. Some years are terrible, and some are boring, and some are busy. We live through seasons of hidden growth; seasons where the harvest seems to be coming in faster than we can gather it in; and seasons where the ground is hard, the water is frozen, and it’s OK to be still.

“You will be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bears fruit in season,” says Jeremiah. This verse is so deeply comforting to me. Some seasons are for fast growth, some for giving to the world, some for dying a bit to make room for newness. Each season good. All of them holy.

Everything belongs.

All the shit – yes, the literal shit – belongs. Throw those gross banana peels of 2018 on the compost heap, and see what happens to them in a few years. Every dead thing becomes nourishment for what’s next. Coffee grounds and egg shells and rotten apple cores are tossed in, turned, and waited on patiently – and then we shovel that good, dark dirt into the garden and it smells earthy and feels warm and it is even beautiful.

God is turning everything into nourishment.

Everything gets used. All of it.

Don’t be afraid of all the gross or nasty parts of 2018. Be gentle with them. Accept them. Invite them in with a laugh and hold them lightly. Trust that God is making everything into good compost for 2019.

God,
help us to honor our weaknesses,
and failures,
and even our shame.
Help us hold ourselves lightly as we move into the new year.
Help us trust Your composting process.
Amen.

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